Biography (Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition)
Brett Halliday was born Davis Dresser in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Justus Dresser and Mary Dresser. Growing up in Texas, he ran away from home at the age of fourteen and enlisted in the army. Two years later his true age was discovered, and he was discharged. Traveling throughout the Southwest, he worked variously in construction, on oil fields, digging graves, and other such jobs. During the 1920’s he attended college in Indiana, where he received a certificate in civil engineering. For a while he worked as an engineer and surveyor before finding himself down and out in Los Angeles—“hungry, jobless, and broke.”
In 1927 Halliday began to write, failing to win the Dodd, Mead Red Badge contest. Finding engineering work was difficult during the Depression, and he turned to the pulp magazines. Under various pseudonyms, he wrote romances, mysteries, and Westerns. For Mum’s the Word for Murder (1938), his first mystery, he used the pen name Asa Baker. In 1939, after having been rejected twenty-two times, Dividend on Death, the first Mike Shayne detective novel, appeared under the Brett Halliday pseudonym. Although Shayne was not originally conceived of as a series, when Bill Sloane, Halliday’s editor at Henry Holt, asked for a second book, Halliday turned out The Private Practice of Michael Shayne (1940), a book that later was sold to Hollywood.
Halliday was married three times. Interestingly, his...
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